Even in the last days of his life, legendary management consultant Peter Drucker maintained that making knowledge workers productive is “the biggest of the 21st century management challenges.” He even warned that the “first survival requirement” of developed nations is to improve the productivity of knowledge workers.
Not many may comprehend or appreciate it, but self-awareness is the ﬁrst step on that road. It improves productivity, performance and satisfaction not only at work but in all aspects of life.
What is Self-Awareness?
In their book Essential Social Psychology, Richard J. Crisp and Rhiannon N. Turner define self-awareness as “a psychological state in which people are aware of their traits, feelings and behavior” or “a realization of oneself as an individual entity.”
Self-awareness then is one’s ability to have a clear understanding of his or her personality and all the parts that sum it up, negative and positive. A self-aware person knows his or her range of emotions, motivations, beliefs, values, thoughts, weaknesses and strengths. Self-awareness also helps a person to perceive other people’s perception of them.
Psychologists consider self-awareness the foundation of emotional intelligence and thereby a vital determinant of success.
How Can Self-Awareness Improve Productivity?
When people develop self-awareness, they consequently develop the ability to identify, harness and manage their emotions. By giving people firmer reins over their emotions, self-awareness can alter the direction and interpretation of their thoughts and, consequently, their behavior. It allows people to see where they are going and empowers them to make the appropriate changes.
Self-aware people are able to change their behavior to conform to a particular situation. They know exactly what they and others are doing that are jeopardizing the attainment of a goal—an inaction, poor action, or delay—but are able to mobilize and change the outcome.
In fact, self-awareness plays a very important function in leadership. All too often, it is all that stands between a know-it-all despot and a constructive leader. Self-awareness serves to cast light on blind spots that lead managers to appraise their abilities too hyperbolically or conservatively. Such skewed insights would cost the organization dearly.
“Our ability to accomplish our goals depends on our ability to critically appraise our own actions and the actions of those around us,” Elkhonon Goldberg said in his book The New Executive Brain.
A workshop report published by the American University postulates that self-awareness can “unleash untapped creative powers” within individuals. In other words, self-aware individuals know what they want to do and have aligned this with the work that they really want. There is congruence between the work they’re doing and what is important to them. All these conspire to give them inner serenity and a sense of fulfillment, making them more effective and productive.
People who have developed self-awareness tend to set meaningful goals and focus on the steps required to achieve that goal. They are acutely mindful of the repercussions of their interrelationships with co-workers and systems in the organization.
“Self-awareness is about understanding who you are. It’s about being able to identify all of the pieces, the sum of the parts that makes you a human being,” performance coach Andrew May wrote in Australia’s The Age.
“If you can improve self-awareness, that’s going to put you into another league and increase your likelihood of success even more in all domains of life.”
How to Develop Self-Awareness
To rejuvenate your zest for life and work, start by making an effort to know yourself better. Here are a few tips to reacquaint you with yourself:
1. Understand the way you think.
When you become conscious of your cognitive processes, you can better manage the way you emote. The slightest off-putting thought can aggravate to negative affects that may prove burdensome to your productivity and performance. By practicing self-awareness, you prevent yourself from reacting inordinately to any situation.
2. Take tests.
A number of assessments and personality tests, e.g. the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Caliper assessment, can easily reveal your blind spots.
3. Solicit feedback.
A 360-degree multi-rater assessment is the typically formal way of developing your self-awareness. In this kind of assessment, your superiors, peers, and subordinates, even family and friends, anonymously comment on multiple facets of your personality.
But you don’t have to wait for a 360 to become more self-aware. You can easily solicit feedback in informal settings, e.g. when you are talking with teammates about career plans.
4. Talk to a performance coach.
Performance coaches are experienced at designing learning modules that boost self-awareness and add structure to your goals. Learn from the productivity experts.
5. Know your strengths.
You may already know some of these, but it is important to constantly reassess what you are good at, especially because you are always shifting gears in an organization. One kind of forte may not serve you as well in other job functions. Know other strengths, and when you have none, cultivate them.
6. Reflect every day.
Set aside time once a day to be alone and take stock of your performance and interactions with others. Or keep a journal, and write in it in the evenings before bedtime to ponder on everything that has transpired. For the same reasons, do regular project post-mortems.
7. Don’t just criticize.
Gaffes and failures are pivotal points in the journey toward self-awareness. Rather than mindlessly criticize yourself, be as quick to appreciate. You need to acknowledge your small successes, even as you sift opportunities for change. This way, you can sustain your goal of optimum productivity.
Self-awareness is the initial step in shaping your destiny and becoming the master of your life. However, learn to discern between healthy self-awareness and self-consciousness that borders on paranoia. Also, take note that self-awareness is less being self-centered than taking genuine interest in the organization as a whole.
When you are self-aware, you get to glean insights about yourself that open a never-ending array of chances for change. The organization will benefit far more from a worker who admits to mistakes than someone who miscalculates his or her abilities. Leaps are made over lapses, not lies to yourself. In understanding this, you truly position yourself as a worker ready for the challenges of this century.